Growing the Organic Market, One Woman at a Time

The time has never been better for women to get into agribusiness, read more to learn the different areas that women may fit in the farm world.

| July 2016

  • Idea Seed: Don’t believe the hype; get your own data. Intuit, trust, and verify. Notice emergent possibilities; kindle them gently. Build fierce loyalty with people who know how to motivate themselves. Inspire them and gift them a lot of freedom. -Severine von Tscharner Fleming, director of Greenhorns, co-founder of Farm Hack, National Young Farmers Coalition
    Photo by Fotolia/Image Source
  • Jordan Champagne of Happy Girl Kitchen, alongside her daughter, packing lemons in crocks. Tool Shed: The Good Food Awards Draw ideas from award-winning masters: Study the list of Good Food Awards and harvest ideas. Are certain food categories offered in some areas of the country but not yours? What can you learn from the packaging, websites, and marketing approaches? You’ll quickly see that the vast majority of these companies, like Happy Girl Kitchen, build brand through authenticity — sharing honest stories about what motivated the upstart and where the ingredients are grown. Launched in 2010, the Good Food Awards came to life through a collaboration of food producers, farmers, food journalists, and independent grocers aiming to recognize “truly good food,” the kind that brings people together and builds strong, healthy communities. Winners are honored at a special ceremony in San Francisco in January.
    Photo by John D. Ivanko
  • Faye Jones harvests greens on her farm.
    Photo by Mark Plunkett
  • In “Soil sisters,” by Lisa Kivirist, you are taken into a conversation among friends that describes their struggles and success as women farmers.
    Cover courtesy New Society Publishers

Soil Sisters (New Society Publishers, 2016), by Lisa Kivirist plows new ground and provides a wealth of invaluable information and resources for fledgling female farming entrepreneurs. As women in agriculture are sprouting up in record numbers, but they face a host of distinct challenges and opportunities. This excerpt introduces you to entrepreneurs that are customizing tools to fit women so they may work more efficiently.

You can purchase this book from the GRIT store: Soil Sisters.

Growing the Organic Market, One Woman at a Time

“Right now is the best time ever for women interested in farming and passionate about organic and sustainable agriculture to explore launching an operation,” shares Faye Jones, executive director of the Midwest Organic and Sustainable Education Service (MOSES). “Between the good-food market momentum and the long menu of  training and educational options out there, plus increasing opportunities to connect with and learn from and support other women farmers, you can readily set yourself up for success in a way that wasn’t possible when I started farming three decades ago.”

Jones first connected with organic farming at 19 when she visited her boyfriend’s family’s dairy farm. “It was a wonderful, magical experience with cows, pastures, barns,” she says, beaming. Inspired, Jones enrolled in agricultural courses but soon grew disappointed as they focused only on conventional farming with heavy mechanical input  and toxic chemicals. Jones dropped out of college for her own “learning by doing” curriculum that included farm apprenticeships, learning from mentors, and attending conferences. “The organic movement was such a young baby back then that when I use the word ‘conferences’ they were nothing like what you picture today.

In the 1980s, these were more like reasons to get together and share knowledge. We were all in the same boat, learning together as we farmed and collaboratively sharing together.” In the early 1980s, Jones started farming vegetables and flowers on rented parcels that were part of existing organic farms selling to the Minneapolis area. “This worked out great because I had mentors on site that I could keep learning from.” In 1989, Jones purchased her farm in west central Wisconsin and started moving toward specializing in cut flowers. “Twenty years ago, the timing was ideal to get into flowers, as you started seeing flowers in places other than a flower shop. Upscale grocery stores sold bouquets that featured blooms other than carnations and roses, and people began viewing flowers more as a gift to give any time, rather than just for Valentine’s Day or when someone is sick,” she recalls.

“Also, when I did my books at the end of the year, I quickly realized I made a lot more profit off the flowers for the time I invested versus the vegetables.” Still, as a beginning farmer in this new flower market, Jones knew she needed  to amp up her marketing and customer service mojo to create a viable sales base. “I approached food cooperatives in the Twin Cities and made it super easy for them to say yes and sell my flowers. I’d bring the bouquets directly to the store in plastic sleeves, labeled and ready to sell from clean black plastic buckets I provided.”

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